Hualapai Valley Solar LLC
The Center scored a monumental victory in this case by convincing the Arizona Corporation Commission that it did not make sense to pump groundwater from an already-depleted aquifer to run a solar power plant. Because of the Center's hard work, Arizonan's can reap the benefits of solar energy without having to give up precious water.
This case began when Hualapai Valley Solar ("HVS") filed an application with the Arizona Corporation Commission to construct a 340-megawatt solar power plant in Mohave County. HVS stated that the plant required 2,400 acre feet of groundwater every year for cooling purposes. This water would come straight from the Hualapai Valley Aquifer.
As desert dwellers, we know that water is a quickly vanishing, finite resource. This is even more the case with groundwater because it is replenished only by rainfall, another scarcity in the desert. It is understandable, then, that Mohave County resident Denise Bensusan had concerns when she heard about HVS's plans to pump groundwater. When her request to intervene in proceedings regarding HVS's plant application was denied, she contacted the Center for help.
The Center appealed the denial to the ACC and in April, the Commission decided Ms. Bensusan should have been allowed to intervene and reopened the case to conduct further hearings with respect to Ms. Bensusan's concerns. In June, the Center represented Ms. Bensusan in two days' worth of hearings on the issue of whether HVS's certificate of approval should be changed given the objections to HVS's use of groundwater.
During the hearing, HVS stated that it was attempting to negotiate a contract with the City of Kingman for use of treated effluent from the city's expanded wastewater treatment plant. Because no agreement had yet been reached, however, HVS wanted authority to pump groundwater out of the aquifer.
The Center showed that currently, water is being removed from the Hualapai Valley Aquifer more quickly than the aquifer is being replenished through recharge (i.e., rainfall).
In order to maintain the aquifer for residents in and around Kingman, the Center proposed that HVS use dry cooling technology instead of ground water to run its plant. Dry cooling is slightly more expensive and slightly less efficient but uses virtually no water. Recently, Arizona's water-starved neighbors -- California, Nevada and New Mexico -- have begun to require that desert solar projects be dry cooled, and the Center proposed that the Commission do the same for HVS.
On October 20, ACC Chairman Kris Mayes proposed an amendment to HVS's certificate of approval that would prohibit the use of groundwater at the solar plant. Commissioners Sandra Kennedy and Bob Stump voted for the amendment, marking the first time that the ACC prohibited use of ground water for a solar power plant.
As a result, HVS likely will have to use some combination of effluent and dry cooling for its power plant and the residents of Mohave County will not lose precious water from their diminishing aquifer. The Center hopes that this case will establish a precedent for similar cases in the future.